Edelman – Last of the Bundists?

RIP Marek Edelman 1919/22-2009
RIP Marek Edelman 1919-2009

Although the title of this piece is, in all probability, utterly misleading, it is not without reason I pin the moniker “Last of the Bundists” on the head of the departed Marek Edelman. There are several reasons. Firstly, he was most certainly the last of a dying breed. Marek Edelman passed away on the 2nd October 2009 at the age of 90. He was the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, fighting tooth and nail for Poland’s decimated Jewish population. He was a member of Solidarity and took part in the Round Table Talks which triggered the beginning of the end for communism in Europe. He received Poland’s Order of the White Eagle and France’s Legion of Honour for his wartime bravery and opposition activism.

Edelman Survived the Ghetto
Edelman Survived the Ghetto

Secondly, Marek Edelman was in every sense a true hero. Honoured in Poland, France and the US, and respected across Europe, this humble man decided to stay in Poland after the war and not, like so many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, emigrate to the newly forming State of Israel, then still the British Mandate of Palestine. He had fought and witnessed most of his friends and family die at the hands of the Nazis. To have survived such atrocities and then take up and leave was not Edelman’s style. He had defended Warsaw so that Warsaw and its inhabitants would live on. He would not be leaving Poland’s capital.

Edelman & the Round Table Talks
Edelman & the Round Table Talks

It is odd then that Edelman, a Jew and the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, was never honoured by or afforded the same degree of respect in Israel that he was given in Europe and the US.  In trying to explain the “Last of the Bundists” sobriquet we should remmber that Marek Edelman belonged to the the Jewish Labour Party ‘Bund’ and was an outspoken anti-Zionist and a firm critic of Israel’s foreign policy in particular with regards to its middle-eastern neighbours. It was difficult for him, a socialist and supporter of Solidarity (and solidarity), to come to terms with what had become of the State of Israel. In this sense he really was the “Last of the Bundists”…

Marek Edelman 1919-2009, wartime hero, political activist and cardiologist will be sorely missed.

31 thoughts on “Edelman – Last of the Bundists?

  1. You answered the question yourself: he was a member of the ‘Anti-Zionist’ Socialist Bund, and as such an opponent of the entire founding concept of the modern Israeli state. ‘All Jews are equal, but some are more equal than others’ in the state which Ariel Sharon created and Netanyahu is back in charge of again. Just goes to show, it doesn’t matter what the founding ideology may be – religious, economic, sociopolitical – there are always those who are too inconvenient to the rulers, however brave or intelligent they may be.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Israel/Palestine conflict, and I may rant about that some other time. 🙂

  2. Oh, and there was this:

    “In the summer of 2002, Edelman, still going strong, intervened in Israel’s show trial of the now jailed Palestinian resistance leader, Marwan Barghouti. He wrote a letter of solidarity to the Palestinian movement, and though he criticised the suicide bombers, its tone infuriated the Israeli government and its press. Edelman had always resented Israel’s claim on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising as a symbol of Jewish liberation. Now he said this belonged to the Palestinians.

    He addressed his letter to the Palestinian ZOB, “commanders of the Palestinian military, paramilitary and partisan operations – to all the soldiers of the Palestinian fighting organisations”. The old Jewish anti-Nazi Ghetto fighter had placed his immense moral authority at the disposable of the only side he deemed worthy of it.”

    from the Independent’s obituary

    He was a Jew, AND a Pole, AND a European, AND a fighter against injustice. He did not allow himself to exist only in terms of a single, exclusive identity. Such people are always inconvenient.

  3. Thanks Jim. I read this obituary, paying particular attention to the way he addressed the Palestinians. I think the Israeli government were more than just ‘infuriated’.
    Good point about him being ‘inconvenient’. It should also be mentioned that there were many Polish activists who he also annoyed by being simply Marek Edelman.

  4. It is because Marek Edelman always spoke the truth as he saw it, no matter how inconvenient it might have by to anyone. He never backed away from an argument, no matter with whom he was arguing. He destroyed a lot of myths about everyone during WWII, Jews, Poles, Germans, Russians. And many people did not like him for it, so its no surprise that Israel would try to forget an inconvenient hero. He always stood by his principles, whether it was against Polish nationalists, Nazis, Communists, Zionists, he opposed what he was as wrong and was not shy about it. He should be honoured by decent people everywhere.

  5. R.I.P

    A true hero and legend, and the type of person who is sorely needed yet ever more hard to find these days.

    His example should make all the false patriot blowhards shut up and hang their heads in shame. It won’t though, unfortunately…

    BTW: It is interesting that the ‘Socialist’ label has become a dirty word in Poland. Some people freely interchange ‘Socialist’ and ‘Communist. People insult politicans by calling them ‘Socialists’.

    Edelman and Piłsudksi were both Socialists, weren’t they?

  6. He he, Raf made this point on some earlier blog. I thought it was very astute. A large part of the anti-commie resistance was Left. Solidarity itself was a left wing trade union. So the right wingers, having no real opposition heroes (who did anything worthwhile other than being big mouthed blowhards), or traditions for that matter, do what they do best, and what the communists always did. They relabel things to suit them They repeat it on a daily basis until they believe it. So right now any “socialist” becomes a communist and anyone who fought the red menace must have been a right winger. Stalin would be proud.

  7. Its become a dirty word in America too.
    Every attempt at a reform of anything is labeled socialism. Its the usual right wing tactics, label, rinse and repeat. They always do it, and the Left has never figured out how to counter those labels. Frankly the left leaning liberals have to step down to the levels of the right. I hate it, but there is no other way to deal with such nonsense. I am a rationalist, I do not form my opinions on issues based on my beliefs. I try to use logic. And as such any of the loud mouthed labels and hatred really pisses me off. But there is no other way. Fight fire with fire.

  8. Great comments by rlisu.

    Just as the Stalinists labelled all enemies as bourgoise reactionaries, so the present-day Polish right can label anyone to the left of Donald Tusk as a Communist agent taking the Muscovite shilling.

    As for the American right and Obama, some of those people are just off the scale…

  9. Thanks to both of you for your fine comments. I really appreciate them. 🙂
    I’ve noticed even that whenever I make socialist comments here in Poland people agree with me,but if I say I have socialist views then I’m attacked straightaway. Bizarre. Absolutely bizarre.

    1. Actually those were the communists that used the words communist and socialist as synonyms, so you can’t blame Poles for creating the association, there was none before WWII. In the PRL era it was officially said that Poland was a socialist country on its way to communism (i.e. still an imperfect communist state). All non-communists were called fascists, including Polish socialists like Piłsudski. In the Soviet Union they’d even say that they fought against “White Poland”. On the other hand the Nazis were called fascists too, because Stalin objected to people’s use of the term Nazi (National Socialism) so that no one could make a link between Hitler and his own politics. “Partia” is another problematic word. No political party in Poland calls itself “partia”. Plus there is the problem that the only party with a clearly socialist program is in fact a post-communist party. All they have shown so far is hypocrisy and corruption. Hardly an encouragement to change the image of the left, even if people in general have leftist views.

  10. Its ignorance.
    Marek Edelman was a socialist, hated commies. Mikolajczyk, many on the government in exile were. Socialists usually were more opposed to the red bastards than the right was. Poland, a free Poland, after World War 2 was going to be a social liberal country, with much of its heavy industry nationalized, sweeping land reforms and it was going to have much of the Western European social safety nets, free education, healthcare, etc. Its what these people fought for, not some right wing idea of laissez-faire capitalism. The ignorant these days claim they honour those people while they do not know anything about them. Opposition to communism to them means that those people must have had right wing beliefs. Its shocking to me that the level of ignorance exists. You’re there Raf, teach them, you have a very good grasp of these things.

    1. rlisu, thanks. It’s always dangerous to think about ‘what might have been’ (for example, had WWII not taken place). Who knows, the liberal-thinking officials in pre-war Poland might have been hounded out by right-wingers wanting to stamp their authority on affairs in the face of the Red Nuisance in Soviet Russia and the Black Nuisance in Nazi Germany. What I do know is that provincialism and extremism are extremely dangerous for tolerance, equality and freedom.

  11. I have just read about this great man. There are only a few rare non-sectarian heroes and Marek Edelman is one of them. An inspiration in a world riven by sectarian prejudices. As a non-believer, though with a Muslim name,I salute him from Delhi.

    1. I have just noticed Jawid Laiq’s name. We were good friends in Bombay in the 1960s but somehow lost touch. A number of my attempts failed a couple of years ago. I am currently working in Aceh, Indonesia. It would be great to get in contact again. I would be most grateful if this can be forwarded to him.

  12. Raf, I have a favour to ask, would you be interested in working together on a project, Warsaw Ghetto, its Uprising, Warsaw Uprising, antisemitism in Poland, pre War, wartime, commie times. Not strictly historical as in pro, but history based reflections and explanations of events and times, no agenda, not trying to prove anything, just remembering.
    A linked series.
    I don’t have a Polish language keyboard, and fixing letters through firefox would take forever. I am planning to do it anyway, but I fear it will not interest many English speaking readers, but Poles might be interested.
    Email me if you can see my email (if you’re interested of course) or just drop a quick line in one of my posts and I will see your email addy through notifications.
    cheers, you can delete this after you read it, Mr. Edelman does not need my silliness.

  13. Well, he probably haven’t realized that ideologically he is not a Jew anymore and does not represent business of the State of Israel. That is all that matters now. If he published some articles justifying Israel’s rapes on Palestinians Sharon would embrace him and hailed him true hero.

  14. And Israel will not respect anyone who is no good for their business regardless of his heroic stand and Jewish origins. So let’s not be surprised.

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